2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, the War to End All Wars. Over the next 10 months leading up to Remembrance Day, guest contributor Dr D. T. Brearley will profile the lives of 40 women with a Belleville connection who served as nurses during the war.
Canadian military nurses were trained nurses before the war, had an average age of 24 and almost all were single. Many had brothers or fathers serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, all were volunteers and there was no shortage of candidates. More than 3,000 nurses served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps; they were nicknamed “Bluebirds” because of their blue uniform and white veils. Canada’s Nursing Sisters saved lives by assisting with medical operations and by caring for convalescing soldiers.
Nurses did not work in the front line trenches although they were often close to the front. As patients arrived by truck or rail, the nurses were among the first to meet wounded soldiers, cleaning wounds and offering comfort. They assisted in surgery and often had the primary responsibility for cleaning post-surgical wounds and watching for secondary infection. They served in several theatres of war outside of the Western Front, including Gallipoli, Egypt and Salonika.
Of the 2,504 Canadian nurses who served overseas, 53 were killed from enemy fire, disease, or drowning during the War. On two occasions in 1918, Canadian hospitals in Europe were hit by enemy bombers and several nurses were killed in the line of duty. On June 27, 1918, a German U-Boat torpedoed and sank the Canadian hospital ship, the Llandovery Castle. All 14 nurses on board were killed.
The Canadian Nursing Sisters were the only nurses of the Allied Forces to hold the rank of officers as part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War 1 (Lieutenant) and they were the first women in Canadian history to vote in a federal election.
Nurses returned from overseas with refined medical skills that infused their profession with new medical techniques and a heightened sense of legitimacy. They had won the affection of thousands of Canadian soldiers who often referred to them as “Angels of Mercy”. A memorial to the war’s nursing sisters was erected in Ottawa in 1926 in the Parliament of Canada’s Hall of Honour.
Edith May Allison was born at the farm house on Concession 2, lot 37 near Marysville, Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County on May 14, 1878 daughter of Jonathan Allison and Sarah Prentice.
She was educated locally, was a graduate of the Nursing School in Belleville in 1898 and worked at the Belleville Hospital for some years before removing with her family to Calgary, Alberta.
Edith enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in Calgary on April 5, 1917.
Height: 5’ 7”
Weight: 150 lb
Stated age: 35 (actual: 38)
Nursing Sister Allison initially served in hospitals in Brighton, Sussex and was then posted to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Outreau, France between June 1918 and March 1919. She returned to Canada, setting sail on April 3, 1919 aboard the S.S. Lapland, and was transferred to the Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary, a facility recently opened for treatment of War Veterans; Miss Allison was discharged on January 15, 1920. Here she served as Matron-In-Charge until 1933.
Her obituary stated: Miss Allison has been a sincere and sympathetic worker in the interests of all ex-servicemen and her kindness and generosity endeared her to all those who came under her care. In 1934 the Calgary Branch of the United Empire Loyalist’s Association furnished a room in the Colonel Belcher Veterans Hospital in her honour.
Edith May Allison died on July 10, 1933 aged 55 years 1 month 26 days. She is interred at the Deseronto Cemetery.
Mabel Hilda Allison was born at the farm house on R.R. 1, Demorestville, Sophiasburg Township, Prince Edward County on January 27, 1887 daughter of Daniel Allison and Anna Newman.
She was educated locally, was a graduate of the Nursing School at the Toronto Western Hospital in 1914 and was working in Toronto when she enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on April 21, 1918.
Height: 5’ 3”
Nursing Sister Allison served at Niagara Camp in Canada and later at hospitals in Thorncliffe, Brighton, Bramshott and Orpington, England. She returned to Canada, setting sail on August 26, 1919 aboard the S.S. Celtic and was discharged on September 6, 1919.
Miss Allison then resided in Belleville where she was employed as a nurse at the Ontario School for the Deaf; she was a member of the Albert College Guild and of Bridge Street United Church. United in marriage on July 11, 1934 to Hiram Bingham Fetterly, the couple resided at 19 Highland Avenue; Mr. Fetterly was a widower and served as principal of the School for the Deaf.
In retirement, Mrs Fetterly resided at 240 George Street in Belleville and died at the Belleville General Hospital on April 16, 1976 aged 89 years 2 months 19 days. She is interred at the Toronto Necropolis, Section S, plot 148.
Jean Kathleen Boyce was born in Grafton, Ontario on June 11, 1889 daughter of Dr. Walter William Boyce and Jessie McKenzie.
She removed to Belleville with her family in 1894 when her father relocated his medical practice. Educated locally, Miss Boyce was a graduate of the Nursing School at the Toronto General Hospital in 1916 and enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in Kingston on March 12, 1917.
Height: 5’ 4”
Stated age: 25 (actual: 27)
Nursing Sister Boyce served at the Duchess of Connaught Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Taplow, England. She returned to Canada on transport duty, setting sail on June 4, 1918 aboard the ill-fated Llandovery Castle which was later sunk off the Irish coast by a German submarine. She served at Hospitals in Kingston, Montreal and at the Cobourg Military Hospital where she was admitted for diphtheria. Miss Boyce was discharged on April 30, 1920 and was united in marriage to Harold Fisher on September 1, 1923.
The couple resided in Belleville but following the death of her father in 1935, Mrs. Fisher, then a widow, removed to be near her children in Fonthill, Ontario.
Jean Kathleen Fisher died on December 12, 1965 aged 76 years 6 months 1 day. She is interred at the Belleville Cemetery Section M, Row 15, Grave 3E.
Olive Marie Campbell was born in Cannifton on May 7, 1890 daughter of John Campbell, a cattle merchant and butcher, and Margaret Mather.
She received her primary education in Belleville and was a graduate of the Nursing School at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1914; she took the first place scholarship at graduation for general proficiency. Listing her residence as 173 Bridge Street, Belleville, Miss Campbell enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on November 19, 1917 in Kingston.
Nursing Sister Campbell served at the Granville Canadian Special Hospital in Buxton, England but resigned her commission on May 20, 1918 and was soon united in marriage to Dr. Percival Keith Menzies; she set sail in December 1918 aboard the S.S. Olympic. Dr. Menzies was a native of Ontario, a graduate of the University of Toronto Medical School in 1910, and served in World War I as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. The couple settled in Syracuse, N.Y. where he practiced general surgery and was later professor emeritus of surgery at the Upstate Medical Center and the former Syracuse University College of Medicine. They had two sons.
Olive Marie Menzies died on January 23, 1989 aged 98 years 8 months 16 days. She is interred at the Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse Section B, Lot 56.
Gertrude Ethel Comerford was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 29, 1892 the daughter of Frederick Comerford and Louise Empey. The father of our subject was a native of Eldorado, a successful farmer on Concession 5, Lot W ½ 16, and served for some years as councillor for Madoc Township.
She was educated in the schools local to Eldorado and was a graduate of the Nursing School in Belleville in 1916. Miss Comerford enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on April 17, 1917 in Kingston.
Height: 5’ 3”
Nursing Sister Comerford served in the # 16 Canadian General Hospital in Orpington, England and later in France. She was hospitalized at the Westcliffe Eye and Ear Hospital at Folkestone, England in October 1917 with Vincent’s Angina (trench mouth).
Miss Comerford returned to Canada, setting sail on August 26, 1919 aboard the S.S. Celtic and was discharged on September 11, 1919.
She immigrated to the United States in March 1924 to work for the Detroit Board of Health and later nursed at the Portland, Oregon ENT Hospital. Miss Comerford was united in marriage on November 2, 1928 to Vernon Beckwith Durling, a native of Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, a graduate of Agriculture in 1914 from McGill University and a Veteran of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War 1. The couple established themselves at Queen’s County, New York where they raised their family.
Gertrude Ethel Durling died on April 2, 1954 aged 61 years 9 months 3 days. She is interred at the Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium in Middle Village, Queen’s County, New York.
Irene Pearl Courtice was born in Bethany, Ontario on September 26, 1887 daughter of Reverend Richard Courtice and Bessie Davis; Reverend Courtice was a Methodist Minister in the Bay of Quinte Conference for more than 40 years.
She spent her childhood in the Bay of Quinte district attending schools where her father was a preacher. After attending Albert College, Miss Courtice obtained a normal education certificate and taught school for a few years in the small rural community of Fortescue, Ontario. Following this she commenced studies and graduated from the Nursing School at the Toronto General Hospital in 1913. She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on April 7, 1915 in Toronto; this was within two weeks of when her brother, Dr. John Thomas Courtice, enlisted.
Height: 5’ 3”
Nursing Sister Courtice treated the sick and wounded military at the No. 4 Canadian General Hospital in Shorncliffe, England and later in France and Salonica. She returned to Canada providing transport duty, setting sail on June 29, 1918 aboard the H.M.H.S. Araguaya, following which Miss Courtice was appointed Matron and head of nursing at the Whitby Military Convalescent Hospital. On March 30, 1920 she was united in marriage to Reverend Sidney Lambert, a Veteran of World War 1 who served with the Canadian Chaplain Service and rose to the rank of Captain. He was wounded at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, had his left leg amputated and subsequently founded and served as the first President of the Amputee Association of the Great War or War Amps.
Irene Pearl Lambert died in Toronto on August 17, 1963 aged 75 years 10 months 21 days. She is interred at Prospect Cemetery in Toronto.
Ida Georgina Denmark was born in Belleville on July 13, 1886 daughter of George Denmark and Margaret Matthie. The father of our subject was a barrister and served on city council; the family lived on the corner of Alexander and Rear (now John) Streets.
She was educated locally and was a graduate of the Nursing School at the Royal Victoria Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. in 1912. In August 1909 she was a nurse-in-training at the Montreal Maternity Hospital; her father travelled to Montreal to visit his daughter, collapsed and died. Miss Denmark enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on September 18, 1914 in Montreal.
Height: 5’ 3”
Nursing Sister Denmark served with the No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Le Touquet, France; this unit had the distinction of being the first of all Canadian units to place foot upon French soil. On November 27, 1914 it opened up the well-known Hôtel du Golf as a hospital of 300 beds. She served for 23 months before resigning “for private reasons” on July 15, 1916 and was united in marriage to Dr. Louis Wellington MacNutt shortly thereafter. Dr MacNutt went overseas as a Captain with No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, rising to the rank of Major. He served in a casualty clearing station and commanded the Hyde Park Place Hospital for Officers in London. Mrs. MacNutt returned to Canada in April 1919 aboard the S.S. Mauritania and the couple established themselves in Vancouver B.C. She was awarded the 1914 Star and the 1916 British War and Victory Medals.
Ida Georgina MacNutt died at the Amherst Private Hospital on February 12, 1969 aged 82 years 6 months 29 days. Her remains were cremated at the Mountain View Cemetery.
Agnes Foley Dick was born in Lochgelly, Scotland on May 3, 1891 daughter of Elizabeth Dick. Elizabeth was the daughter of William and Jane Dick, born in 1861 and married George Oliver in 1883 but was abandoned by him shortly thereafter. When her daughter was born she named her after her mother Jane and stated that George Oliver was not the father; on March 15, 1892 she petitioned to have her daughter’s name changed to Agnes Foley Dick.
Miss Dick immigrated to Canada on May 24, 1911 and was a graduate of the Nursing School in Belleville in 1917. She established herself in Toronto where she enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps on January 24, 1918.
Height: 5’ 2”
Nursing Sister Dick served at the Davisville Military Orthopaedic Hospital, the Spadina Military and Base Hospital in Toronto. Over the course of her military career she was hospitalized a half dozen times at Toronto, Burlington and St. Catherines with influenza and anaemia and was given a disability discharge on August 31, 1919.
Agnes Dick continued to work as a nurse in Toronto following her discharge and would make frequent visits to the United States; it is unknown where she settled or when she died.
Lylia Miller Drummond was born at the farm house on Concession 9, Lot 15, Keene, Ontario on May 16, 1886, daughter of James Drummond and Christiana McDougall.
She was educated locally and was a graduate of the Nursing School in Belleville in 1910. Miss Drummond established herself at Bloomingfield Bridge-of-Allan, Scotland and enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps at London, England on October 7, 1916.
Height: 5’ 2”
Nursing Sister Drummond served in military hospitals in Ramsgate, London, Brighton and Eastbourne England. She returned to Canada setting sail on March 19, 1919 aboard the S.S. Melita, was discharged on April 22, 1919 and continued her nursing career in Belleville. Later, she was doing private nursing duty in Rochester, Minnesota before returning to Canada. Miss Drummond was united in marriage on November 27, 1942 at Keene to Robert Plunkett, a widowed farmer.
Lylia Miller Plunkett died at the Peterborough Civic Hospital on September 3, 1961 aged 75 years 3 months 17 days. She is interred at Fife’s Cemetery, Otonabee Township, Peterborough County, Section B.